Misadventures with Miso

Misadventures with Miso

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Following the Compass Along the Silk Road

 Instead of picking a specific destination for January's Compass Dinner at Departure Restaurant, Chef Gregory Gourdet made a choice of taking us along the Silk Road along with his partners for the night, Chef Ken Norris of Clutch Sausagery and Lyf Gildersleeve of Flying Fish Company. Their plan was to highlight sustainable seafood. My plan was to see how this all comes together.

First up was a cocktail to start the evening. Silk Road Sours were being mixed near our tables reminiscent of dining cars on the Orient Express. The drink featured egg white, Bombay Sapphire East Gin, lemon, and vanilla cardamom clove syrup. For me the flavor was mellow.

We began with a raw Snapper Crudo with citrus, turmeric and chili which gave a bit of sizzle on the tongue. Please note the crispy skin which must be a nod to Chef Gourdet's latest broadcast round on Top Chef.

 At this point Chef Gourdet came out to introduce his partners for the evening. Chef Ken Norris partnered in the kitchen and Lyf Gildersleeve spoke later about Flying Fish Company, his background and where the seafood for each dish came from. He is committed to providing sustainable seafood for Portland.

 We were then served this striking plate of an Uni and Quail Egg Yolk Shooter with Blood Orange and salt. While a lot of people would pass on this, I have to say it was delicious. Right now sea urchin roe is popular on menus around town. My suggestion is if you want to try it ask where the uni is from because fresher is better. I think ours was from San Diego. I have been hearing uni from Catalina is really good right now.

 The second drink on the menu was Opium Den. A mixed cocktail of Dewars, Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur and prosecco. I enjoyed this drink and found it went well with what was to come.

 Which was a Washington Oyster Trio on ice. Spanning the length of the Silk Road with their toppings. One featured anchovy and parmesan, another white soy and crispy rice and the third was harissa and shaved octopus. Another Top Chef nod?

 The oysters were followed by Crispy Razor Clams and Caviar with horseradish and creamy garlic. Chef Gourdet popped out to tell us we could use the shell as a spoon. Highly enjoyed by diners. Lovely taste of citrus on the clams made this one of my favorite dishes of the evening. It was as good as it looks. The clams were from Washington and were excellently prepared.

 You might wonder how a menu would work with all seafood dishes. The secret was in the preparation of each dish. Grilled Sardine paired really well with grapefruit and was a good choice for something grilled. Topped with endive, fennel and pine nuts this little common fish was elevated to a new level. Lyf Gildersleeve spoke of how sardines are at risk because they are being used as food for farmed fish when other things could be used. Considering how sardines are eaten all over the world and is a major source of food for other fish they do need to be protected from being over fished.

Beautiful Seared Live Scallops seasoned with curry spice were served on their shells next. Plated with creamy cauliflower topped with lightly pickled florets. If I remember correctly the scallops were from the East Coast. Very fresh tasting with a heat that did not overwhelm the delicate flavor of the scallop.

I adored this dish. Avgolemono Seafood Chowder with Oregon clams, East Coast lobster, Alaskan spot prawns was amazing. You can tell when a dish is well liked by diners because it gets pretty quiet except for the sounds of eating. I've never had avgolemono before but I really want to learn how to make it because I want it again. I wish I had asked what kind of broth was used. Despite it's appearance it was not heavy or overwhelming with lemon flavor. Outstanding balance made this dish my favorite along with those fried razor clams.

The chowder was followed by a Chinese inspired Sweet and Savory Sea Eel made with ginger and topped with scallions plated with Salt Cod Fried Rice. Another dish nicely balanced with flavor. I have to be cautious when eating spicy food but I think because oils and spices are carefully used by Chef Gregory I am able to enjoy flavors I usually avoid.

Dessert was an inspired Orange and Olive Cake with Basil Ice Cream. Sprinkled with dates and  pistachios with olive oil drizzled on the cake we were brought back to the Mediterranean. The flavors reminded me of food I had in Egypt. Another delicious dessert which was not heavy or overly sweet.

The synergy from the partnership that created this dinner made it one of my favorites. There were no dull moments or off dishes. There was a great flow to the courses. It was definitely a memorable meal.

Thanks to Departure for offering this special dinner series that showcases Chef Gregory Gourdet's cooking. In case you want to eat there, here is Departure's website.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Vegetarian Pop-Up Dinner Lands at Aviary

The other day I found myself at a restaurant I hadn't expected to visit for some time. But back in December I read they would be serving a vegetarian dinner for the first time.

So I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and drove over to Alberta Street in Portland on a rainy night. Thankfully it wasn't too difficult to find my way there since I had not been in that area before. Aviary's decor was rather modern and subdued but not in a bad way. I felt it meant to focus dinners on each other and on the food being served. Behind one wall was a long bar with more seating. I wish I had taken a better look since it looked like a nice area for a meal with someone special.

The servers were congenial and I was placed at a low counter with a partial view of the kitchen. I thought the mushroom sculptures along the top were rather neat.

Pop-up dinners are not unusual at Aviary. Known for it's good food it's a popular place to eat at. But for tonight it was all vegetarian as the menu spelled out.

First up though was ordering something to drink. I liked that they provided a bottle of chilled water at each setting. But I decided to check out one of their mixed drinks so I ordered an Orchard Keeper. Buffalo Trace bourbon, ginger beer, apple cider and Peychaud's bitters almost glowed in the glass. At first I could really taste the ginger beer but over time this became less strong. I think it was a good choice for the meal.

For starters each table was provided with artisan and olive breads to dip in a butter reduction with sherry and miso. I do believe there was a little garlic in there. This was so delicious that I had to force myself not to eat it all right off.


First course arrived and it was leek soup with creme fraiche topped with dried olives, crispy shallots and candied fennel which provided a slight anise flavor. I was a little worried since milk based soups are not always agreeable for me but there was a whipped texture to this which made it light in my mouth. I will remember this for when I make soup in the future.

Second course was silken tofu topped with sweet hot bean paste, scallions, sesame seeds, peanuts, lime, little bits of cantaloupe and I thought I could taste shiso. Nice balance between the more savory components and the soft tofu. I wanted to eat this with chopsticks but settled for the provided fork.

One of the dishes I was looking forward to was the shitake chawanmushi. Not many places serve it which is too bad because it makes a nice alternative to soups or other starting dishes. Aviary's version not only had shitake in it but also gingko nuts and chestnuts. Really nice flavor from the dashi used to make this. On top were lightly cooked sugar snap peas. Definitely met my expectations.

What was a surprise to me was the warm vegetable salad. With romanesco, pumpkin, brussels sprouts with pumpkin and pomegranate seeds I saw this served to other diners and though I would probably not eat as much so I would not fill up. Instead I found this one of the best salads I have ever eaten. Dressed in a delicious lime pickle vinaigrette the vegetables were just right. Underneath were warm sweet spoonfuls of pumpkin. A smear of black garlic added an artistic element along with the black garlic chip which I broke up and ate with the salad. Truly a wonderful dish that I am happy to see on their menu. I will order this again.

Even though it was a set menu there were pauses in being served since I think there were no empty tables. It was obvious their first set Vegetarian Dinner was a success. My seat at the counter gave me an opportunity to watch the chefs and servers at work. I believe that is two of the co-owners and chefs Jasper Shen and Sarah Pilner working hard at pleasing their diners.


Another dish I was looking forward to was their chanterelle ravioli. Made up with fresh ravioli containing a smoky filling which must have been the smoked tapioca. The dish included quince, celery root along with the chanterelles dressed in an herb jus topped with crispy sage leaves. I love mushrooms with pasta and this was a very nice plate.

Nearing the end of the meal was a Butternut Squash Roulade filled with mushrooms and sugar snap peas. A bit of dairy was added with parmesan cream and a fresh egg yolk along with a little fennel. The dark bit is a black vinegar gelee which added a touch of acid. I have found squash is not an easy vegetable to make a whole dish out of. For me it's filling and a little heavy. Adding the black vinegar gelee was a good idea to add more flavor since none of the other ingredients stood out for me. The dish was well made, looked interesting and I know they can cook squash because the pumpkin in the salad was wonderful. It's not the first time I've found butternut squash to be rather substantial.

The dinner ended on a positive note with this delightful citrus salad which was created by pastry chef and co-owner Kat Whitehead. Bits of fruit were well balanced with creamy poppy seed ice cream and melt in the mouth baked meringue. Along with the wonderful huckleberry sauce there wasn't a sour note to this dessert. I loved it.

I'm glad I went to this dinner. The food was really great and I thought the service was good. I look forward to eating at Aviary again.

If you want more information, Aviary's website is here. It is located at
1733 Northeast Alberta Street, Portland, OR 97211

I would suggest making a reservation. Parking is on the street but I was able to park near the restaurant that night. It's located in the Alberta Arts District where they have events like Last Thursday so it's a good idea to check for events since that would affect parking.



Sunday, January 18, 2015

Just a few things for dinner

I use to post food that I cooked at home and food I brought home to eat. Thinking it could be time to do that again since I am trying to blog more. So with that, here are a few things from this first month of 2015.
 
I remembered why I don't go into New Seasons. Because when I do I want to buy everything. However I went in this month to look for a couple special things. And found Origami Catering's Sweet Potato Noodles. These are really fresh and good tasting. And have insured that I will be back to New Seasons to try the other Origami Catering items there. I just have to be strong willed and avoid the rest of the store. Good luck with that.

One of the good things about New Seasons is they have a nice selection of essential oils which is why I went there. I have been making bath bombs so it's fun to think up new ones and the oils help with that. The other thing I was looking for was wine from Mosel Valley in Germany. Thanks to Ewald Moseler serving some up at a dinner I attended I'm now trying a few different Reislings. I bought this bottle of Nein Lives because of that and because of the label. My take on the wine inside is that it was a bit sweet and would be good paired with sweet dishes.

I also stopped at Natural Grocers looking for essential oils where I found this delicious little pie from Willamette Valley Pie Company. I really liked that it was only one or two servings and that it was Marionberry. One of the best things I have discovered since moving to Oregon is marionberries. Absolutely love them.

I won't say where this sushi is from. I got it after doing my Nodoguro Ultimate Sushi post. I don't buy pre-made sushi like this but reliving that dinner and this fish looked decent broke my will power. I ended up eating the fish and not much of the rice which was decently seasoned but gummy. But I'm posting this photo because of the yuzu ponzu shoyu which I picked up at Mitsuwa in Torrance a bit ago. Sadly it's not for sale locally because I really am enjoying it with certain dishes. I used a bit when I poached tai for my New Year's osechi.

The other day I was watching something that was streaming from UK. After watching a bit including commercials I had a craving for chips. Not having any snacks I remembered a couple Yukon Gold Potatoes needing to be cooked. I sliced them up, sauteed them in olive oil and garlic, tossed on a little dried parsley and sea salt and they turned out pretty tasty. Sometimes my brain comes up with decent ideas for cooking. I really need to get truffle salt and make this again.

Another thing I don't normally eat but Gouda cheese kind of owns me. Picked up a Gouda Cheese Dip after sampling it at a local market. Toasted artisan bread and put a bit of the dip on top. I could have made a dip like this but sometimes it's fun to buy things pre-made.

Just a Dungeness Crab I bought after remembering certain crab dishes I recently ate while dining out.

 And a couple lovely tomatoes I found at a local market. I diced up the yellow and orange one, tossed them with Kewpie Savory Soy Dressing and it was amazingly good! Definitely going to make this again. I think with the darker winter days I'm attracted to sunny looking food. I wonder if other people do this too? Are you eating anything interesting lately? Any sunny colorful food during winter months?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Ultimate Omakase Sushi at Nodoguro

I've written about the wonderful creative Japanese cuisine that happens at Nodoguro. But it wasn't till recently that I was able to try the other remarkable dining that sometimes happens there. Since my birthday was coming up I wanted to continue my small tradition of a nice sushi dinner.

It's a limited seating that only happens a couple times a month and sells out within hours. It's almost as elusive as trying to see a mermaid. But thankfully not. Given the amount of work and preparation that must go into a service like this it's not surprising that this is a special night for diners.

Diners sat at the counter that surrounds the working kitchen. Team Nodoguro, Mark, Elena and Chef Ryan are all present preparing and serving the starting dishes or kobachi.

First up was a pair of local Bay Oysters with yuzu and scallions on ice. Nice way to start the meal.

Second was the return of soy cured Ocean Trout with a bit of fresh real wasabe. I believe this was the same or similar to the one served for the Fast Food meal in November. I don't have a problem with that because it was delicious and I would order this again if it was on a menu.

The Crab topped with ikura and Japanese parsley in a egg was probably my favorite of the small dishes. I didn't catch how the egg was foamy while eating but my photo did.

Probably the most unusual dish of the evening was this. Scallops with bonito shuto. If you are brave you can look up bonito shuto. I don't think I would eat bonito shuto by itself but the way Chef Roadhouse served it with the scallops was very tasty.

Next was the Akimo dish. Plated over barley miso with persimmon and scallions it was a really nice combination. I liked the taste of the persimmons in this dish.

The Black Cod with chestnut miso made a return from the December Gitter dinner. This time paired with thinly sliced pickled lotus root. I could tell by the comments that diners loved this dish.

Another first for me was Giant Clam with a bit of mitsuba on top.

We were moving into the omakase sushi portion of the meal. First up was this lovely bit of New Zealand Sea Bream or Tai. Very popular fish to eat at New Years in Japan where it's considered to be the king of fish.

Second was probably my favorite of the sushi, Ocean Trout. Tender and delicate. Following this was Scallop or hotate. I missed getting a photo.

Sitting at the counter meant we were able to watch sushi master Ryan Roadhouse at work as Elena waited to serve us.

A bit of gunkan sushi topped with Maine Sea Urchin or uni.

Also fun to see how a sushi chef cuts the fish. This takes lots of practice which was very much evident for sushi night at Nodoguro.

Lovely Aji or mackerel. My take on mackerel is it better be fresh or forget it. This was very fresh and delicious. Following this was a marinated piece of Tako or octopus which I did not get a decent photo of. Another nigiri that many places don't seem to be able to make well. Tonight's serving was tender and appreciated by diners.

Kohada nigiri or gizzard shad made an elegant presentation in the line-up.

Really nice to see a bit of pressed sushi. By this point my notes are a little difficult to read and I probably was a bit rambling when speaking. I blame the beer. But I did note that this was Saba mackerel with shiso and covered with a type of konbu. I also remember it was delicious.

Grilled Unagi or fresh water eel is one of my favorite dishes. But because they are endangered I am trying to find places that know how to serve Anago or salt water eel. Nodoguro is one of those places that does know how to make it as tasty as Unagi.

Happy to see this Temaki or hand roll. Filled with rice, ikura and yummy local Dungeness crab. Which reminds me I should get some more of Dungeness crab since they are in season and rather inexpensive right now.

That was the end of omakase service. But not the end of sushi. Because Chef Roadhouse opened it up to whatever we wanted of the fish that was left.

So of course I had a few more pieces as did other diners. Good thing I didn't eat much during the day. But then well prepared sushi is one of the few things I can eat a lot of.  No question as to if the Ultimate Sushi at Nodoguro was that.

Other diners indulged in little bowls of ikura. It seems I wasn't the only one there that was a sushi aficionado. We joked about going for a walk and then coming back for more.

However next time at the end I am asking for a Captain's Bowl. It was too late for me to find out about getting a bowl of sashimi. Just one of the secrets at the amazing Omakase Sushi service at Nodoguro.

So far Ultimate Sushi has only happened a couple times a month on Sunday nights. Reservations fill up quickly. I'm hoping that more nights will happen so fans of great sushi will be able to experience this amazing meal. Just be sure to eat light beforehand.